“Reading refreshes as well as renews the mind.”
If we live to be at least 75 years old, we will have spent perhaps 25 of those years sleeping. The physical body needs those years to renew as each cell in our body is completely renewed every 7 years. Still, even when we are asleep, our mind is active. Dreaming, solving problems, and performing the functions to keep us breathing and our heart beating.
Our physical bodies need nutrients to perform well. But what do we feed our mind? That part of us that continues hour after hour? To renew our mind we have to read. We have to imagine! We have to dream even when we are awake!
Perhaps as far back as the 1400s an elite of group of Venetians wore elaborately embroidered leg coverings. As this fashion spread to Paris by the late 1500s the term bas bleu (bas, stocking: bleu, blue) emerged to describe women with literary aspirations. In the 1700s wearing dark blue worsted stockings was a casual dress much like today's blue jeans.
The English term "bluestocking", meaning a literary woman, became official when around 1750 Mrs. Elizabeth Montague (1720 - 1800) and her friends founded the bluestocking society. They dressed in their more practical country clothing including their blue worsted stockings. When they met they discussed books, literature, art and architecture, and places and events of interest.
Imagine Mrs. Montague readying herself for the day in her appropriate undergarments. A linen shift and stays.. She might still be wearing her night cap as she peruses her library in search of that certain book she wants to share with her friends. And, of course, her blue stockings.
Now just where oh where is that book hiding?
Even as she continues to dress in her pocket and pocket hoops, she has found the book and searches for the passage that has captured her attention.
Now that we have left Mrs. Montague to her thoughts in the library, let me tell you about the creation of her underthings.
Historical costuming is a fascinating journey of discovery, learning, creating, and sharing. It is almost impossible to study the fashion of history without learning of the times themselves. While I've had wonderful experiences in both Victorian and Edwardian fashion, I had never made anything representing the 18th century. 2019 was to be that year. Starting into a new era can be overwhelming with so much incredible information available.
It was also wonderful for me as a novice in 18th century to find that Simplicity had released two patterns: 8579 for 18th century underthings, and 8578 for a gown. American Duchess, the designer of the patterns, had also released their books 18th Century Dressmaking and 18th Century Beauty. Everything a novice would need to begin.
In my fabric stash I have a beautiful cream-colored linen which was destashed by another costumer. She had yards and yards and I bought it all years ago. It has created other eras of underthings and will be perfect for this project. I started with a simple pocket to learn the basic handstitches and some simple ribbon embroidery.
Next was a basic shift from the Simplicity pattern. Some long seams are sewn by machine to save time, but all hems and the underarm gussets are finished by hand.
The pocket hoops are also created using the Simplicity pattern and are made with the same linen fabric, cotton twill tape, and reed.
The stays use the same pattern set with layers of linen and an outer layer of heavier linen. The toile fabric was a gift to me from a gentleman who used to run an upholstery shop. Toile, "twall", is a French term meaning "linen cloth" or "canvas". It is an abbreviation of toile de Jouy which translates to "cloth of Jouy". The Oberkampf factory was founded in Jouy-en-Josas, France in 1760. It brought copperplate printing, popular in England and Ireland, to France. Pastoral scenes are done in a single color on white or off-white background. Originally toile was popular for furniture and interior design. Very fitting for my gifted yardage and very timely as the furniture industry that left my part of the country over a decade ago is renewing today with more furniture being made and purchased locally.
The construction was so new and intricate to me even though I have created four more modern corsets. The pattern gave instructions for using nylon heavy duty cable ties and they are both lightweight and very inexpensive.
The channels and main seams are machine sewn, and the binding is hand sewn on both sides. There are metal grommets set on each side of the back which are covered with embroidery thread. The only deviation I made from the pattern is to keep the center front in one piece to preserve the beautiful scene.
The finally, truly, completely, stressful, but oh-so-pretty, finished stays!
And they are comfortable!
The blue stockings were purchased from Burnley and Trowbridge and needed some garters to hold them in place. I added a welcome borrowed from Walt Disney.
Lastly, from the same linen fabric, a 1770s French Night Cap from a pattern and instructions in the American Duchess 18th Century Beauty book.
And Mrs. Montague is ready to be outfitted in her 18th century underpinnings. This is a video I made for the Foundations Revealed Contest 2020:
Mrs. Montague bids you good day and good reading and all the mind renewal you desire!
Be a Bluestocking!